Tour De France 2012: 7 Stages That Will Separate the Leaders from the Field

Darin Pike@darinpikeContributor IJune 30, 2012

Tour De France 2012: 7 Stages That Will Separate the Leaders from the Field

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    The 99th Tour de France starts Saturday, June 30 in Liege, Belgium. Defending champion Cadel Evans will look to hold off Bradley Wiggins and the balance of the field, and the following seven stages could prove to be tipping points in the battle for the final yellow jersey.

    The race will end in Paris on July 22 after the riders traverse the 2,200-mile course.

    The most casual of fans are familiar with the dreaded climbs through the Alps and Pyrenees mountains. However, racers will also face blistering heat radiating from the pavement along with dangerous wind gusts.

    Rain is also likely, creating even more danger as cyclists navigate tight turns.

    Looking over the course, the following seven stages will create challenges and opportunities for the competitors in the 2012 Tour de France.

    All graphs and maps are from Expanded information can be found by clicking on each.

Prologue: Saturday, June 30

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     Liège - 4 miles

    While a short sprint, the time trial offers riders a chance to assert their presence in the 2012 Tour.

    This stage is about pure power and favors the time trialists in the group. Robert Gesink, Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin will be the favorites to grab the yellow jersey first.

Stage 4: Wednesday, July 4

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     Rouen - 133 miles

    The Tour certainly won't be won during Stage 4, but a careless rider could certainly put himself in a dangerous hole early in the race.

    This region holds many pitfalls, starting with uncertain winds coming off the seaside. The scenery is quite beautiful, but the riders won't have the luxury of enjoying it.

    This will be the first time the peloton of the Tour de France passes through the gateway to the Bay of Somme.


Stage 7: Saturday, July 7

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     La Planche des Belles Filles - 123.6 miles 

    The Trois Ballons race finishes in La Planche des Belles Filles, but this stage will be new for many of the riders. This stage's "highlight" is a final climb of almost four miles at an average grade of 8.5 percent.

    The last section is one of the highest with an average climb of 14 percent, but brief portions of this stage will hit gradients in the low 20s. 

    This is certainly the first big test for the cyclists, favoring the climbers in the group.

Stage 8: Sunday, July 8

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     Porrentruy - 98 miles

    Perhaps the hardest part of this stage is that it falls on the heels of Stage 7. Riders will have been thoroughly tested the day prior and will need to dig deep for this century ride.

    The final 10 miles are downhill and then relatively flat, but that stretch is preceded by the daunting Col de La Croix. This ascent will be a decisive factor in this leg.


Stage 11: Thursday, July 12

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     La Toussuire - Les Sybelles - 92 miles

    This rigorous alpine leg leaves from the home of the 1992 Winter Olympics and takes riders over two unbelievable peaks. 

    This leg may be best remembered for the stretch where Floyd Landis almost lost the 2006 Tour de France. He finished 10 minutes behind the stage's winner, in large part to struggles with the 6.1 percent grade over the final 11-mile climb at La Toussuire.

    Instead, Landis is known for losing his title due to alleged performance-enhancing drug use.

    The stretch also includes the Col de la Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer and the Col du Mollard.

    This stage will narrow the field of potential winners.


Stage 16: Wednesday, July 18

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     Bagnères-de-Luchon - 122 miles

    This is the major stage in the Pyrenees and gives riders an excellent shot to overtake the wearer of the yellow jersey.

    There are two mega-climbs on this leg which includes the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, the Aspin and the Peyresourde. The latter is known as "The Circle of Death."

    The final climb is six miles with a 6.7 percent grade. 


Stage 19: Saturday, July 21

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     Chartres - 33 miles

    This 33-mile time trial is the last real opportunity for a rider to overtake the leader. Strength and stamina will obviously be in short supply, but a real difference maker can be concentration.

    After weeks of grueling climbs and turns, riders can't take this flat and relatively straight stage for granted. A lapse here could prove costly, as flat riders will seize any opportunity to gain ground on the climbers.